My goddaughter will soon be having her first baby and I have had babies and childbirth on my mind lately. A birth is a birth, right? How different can American and Dutch births be? Well, the actual mechanics of birth are the same…hello?! But the Dutch do things a little differently than most Americans. It does not involve giving birth in a wooden boat on a canal. The woman does not grip a herring between her teeth as she goes through labor. And the baby does not get itty bitty wooden shoes as a gift from the hospital.

In fact, many births happen at home. The Netherlands has the highest percentage of home births in the western world. Thirty percent of all births happen at home, with a midwife.

Women who give birth in a hospital do it because of a medical need or urgency. Women who are expecting twins are automatically hospitalized. There is absolutely no anesthesia or medications for home births and in fact, it is rarely given in hospitals. The Dutch have a reputation for being tough, and this confirms it.

Women are allowed to take four months of maternity leave, if they choose to. They must start their maternity leave six weeks before their due date, that is the law. Both parents can take unpaid maternity leave, if they want. The partner of the mother gets two maternity days with pay when the baby is born.

Each family gets a home visit from a professional maternity nurse, no matter if the baby is born at home or in hospital. The nurse comes the first eight days after the baby is born. They are there to help with the baby, take care of the other children, make meals and do light housekeeping as well. This is at no extra cost to the family.

It is absolutely normal to be driving around town with a Dutch person and have them pass by a house or apartment and say “ See that window on the left? That is the room I was born in.” Most people assume you have given birth at home because that is the normal thing to do here. If you say you were born in a hospital, the assumption is that there were complications.

While finding out about the home births in The Netherlands, I kept flashing to all the old movies where a woman is about to give birth. The births all seemed to happen at home and everyone is usually in a major panic. The father is never allowed in the room, he is told to boil water, get clean sheets and towels, some rope or string and oh yeah, don’t forget to boil some water. The doctor, the midwife, or the 95 year old woman who lives down the lane in a tree house where she grows strange little herbs will then be with the mother for days and then you finally hear a baby’s cry. The father, who has been crazy with worry, is now allowed to see the baby and his wife. All the signs of childbirth have disappeared and he only sees a clean and beautiful baby and his wife who now looks like the Virgin Mary. This is the old Hollywood version and we know the real deal.

No matter where the baby is born, the most important thing is the health of the mother and the baby. I remember the first time that I held my goddaughter’s face to my face. The feel of her soft cheeks on mine, kissing her and then holding her on my shoulder…it is truly one of the best feelings in the world. It is a feeling of pure love in your hands and you don’t want it to ever stop. When a baby is on your shoulder, you can feel them breathe. You want to protect them and keep them near for as long as you can. One of the greatest things about being around a baby, is that moment when they recognize you and they react in pure baby fashion: the eyes light up, the legs and arms kick out, and their smile is aimed just for you. So now this baby is going to be a mother, I am here and she is there. I wish all babies in the world a happy life with parents who love them as they should be loved—like they are the most wanted gift in the world. Because they are.

Recommended viewing:  a wonderful documentary on dvd called BABIES.

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  • Aledys Ver  On June 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Congratulations to your goddaughter and blessings to the new baby!
    I hear from my non-Dutch friends that while they don’t generally choose to give birth at home, they do appreciate the “kraamzorg” -special care at home afterwards- tremendously.

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